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Students rally in Portsmouth for climate action on Earth Day

As activists across New Hampshire gather this weekend for Earth Day events, high school students are among those asking leaders to take climate change more seriously.

Members of the new Seacoast Students 4 Sustainability group organized a gathering on the steps of a church in Portsmouth Friday afternoon. Speakers called for more clean energy, environmental protection, and racial justice in the climate movement.

“When you imagine climate change, what first comes to mind? The ozone layer, global warming, animal extinction, probably solar panels and fossil fuels. Racism? Probably not,” said Saniyah Bolton, a student at Exeter High School.

In her speech, Bolton encouraged her peers to understand the many ways in which climate change disproportionately impacts historically marginalized people.

Grace Webb, who goes to Oyster River High School, also encouraged people to focus on environmental justice, talking about the colonial legacy of dams in New Hampshire and the removal of the Mill Pond dam.

Webb told the crowd that she’s sometimes discouraged by the lack of action from adults on issues of climate justice.

“We are told as kids and as students to never make the same mistake twice. So why are we continuing to make the same mistakes over and over again?”

But many students, including Webb, spoke about their hope that young people would bring change. Benjamin Doyle helped start Seacoast Students 4 Sustainability this year. He told NHPR he’s hearing more and more of his peers have conversations about climate change.

“It’s this foreboding feeling, this ever-present anxiety we have,” he said. “A lot of us are starting to turn that anxiety now into more of [an] action-based, like, what can we do about it?”

Some of the students involved with Seacoast Students for Sustainability have testified at the New Hampshire legislature, advocating for bills that could lead to more offshore wind power and one that would give youth more of a voice in environmental policymaking.

One of those students is Loreley Godfrey, the group's policy director. She wants to see state legislators be more strategic in their response to climate change. She spoke about investing more funds from the regional greenhouse gas initiative, RGGI, in renewable energy, and addressing the potential of offshore wind.

“Right now we’re looking for action we haven’t seen. Right now, we have an outdated and unenforceable climate action plan," she said in an interview with NHPR. "We have renewable energy resources in New Hampshire, but we're just not using them."

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.

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